The ACA and the Institute - Distinct but Complementary

Kieran Wong , 16 February 2017

In a recent issue of Architect WA, ACA – WA President Kieran Wong was interviewed by Institute WA President Philip Griffiths. Kieran explained that the two different organisations have quite distinct agendas, objectives and services for members and discussed how the two organisations might work more cooperatively and collaboratively.

This interview is republished with permission from the Spring 2016 issue of The Architect.


Philip Griffiths: What is ACA and what does it do? 

Kieran Wong: ACA was born in 1987 out of a growing demand from practice owners and directors for greater representation on industrial relations and employment issues, particularly following the introduction of the Architects Award. These areas have always been a challenge for architects because of the nature of their work and the diversity of their workplaces. Employment matters – such as pay and conditions, employment contracts and general HR support – are as important today as they were then. In 2012 the ACA developed a new strategic plan, which saw the expansion of the organisation to encompass the business of architecture more widely.

We firmly believe that architects need good business skills if the profession is to prosper and contribute meaningfully to the built environment. Members are supported with practical tools such as the Architects’ Time/Cost Calculation Guide, Model Employment Agreements and the soon-to-be-launched Salary Calculator. All are related to contemporary practice and have proven to be incredibly useful tools for our members, who can easily access them through our super-helpful website. We also provide tailored advice to members in business and employment matters.

We have branches in each state. We work together at a national level, but also understand the different regulatory issues in the various jurisdictions and operate according to members’ concerns and interests.

How is ACA different from the Institute?

Many people are involved with both organisations, but ACA members are the practices themselves, not individual architects. This means that those active in the ACA are the leaders of practices – the people making the decisions and dealing with the business of architecture. That’s a very important distinction because it enables us to focus on practice management and employment issues. Our advocacy is centred on important objectives, such as improving procurement environments, encouraging good business practices within the profession and consulting with government – most recently on planning policies and Development Advisory Panels. The Institute has a much broader scope of activity, including the Awards program, Venice Biennale participation and so on.

The ACA model is working very successfully. Concentrating on the business dimension means we have a very clear role in the industry. We don’t have offices and keep our overheads low, allowing  us to channel our resources into practical projects that directly benefit our members, such as the new salary calculator.

How do you engage with your members?

In WA we run a series of events to keep members enthused and participating, and they enjoy the networking opportunities. What I find really helpful is that the events enable me to talk to people who are in the same professional situation as me. We are all owners and directors talking about common issues, whereas the Institute events have a much wider audience, which reflects your membership.

The ACA also runs some Continuing Professional Development [CPD], mainly online through the ACA Insight national webinar series. CPD has become a very competitive space, but our material is always consistent with our focus on practice.

How can our organisations help each other and our members?

I am very keen to work more closely with the Institute. Historically the relationship may have been seen as competitive, but each organisation has a very clear mandate and these are complementary. The ACA looks after business issues and the Institute concentrates on advocating the benefits of architects to government and the community. We do share a common purpose in advancing the interests of the architecture profession, as we believe that a solid business foundation underpins the ability for our members to do great work in the built environment.

Joint events might be a good way to make progress on this and I’m sure we can find opportunities to connect members, such as our recent panel discussion on DAPs and DACs. Jointly advocating for issues that affect our constituencies will also be useful. ACA met recently with the Minister for Planning to advocate strongly for our members’ position on DAPs and DACs. Teaming up on this sort of initiative could be very useful for all our members.

What issues are going to be most important to the profession in the next 10–20 years?

This is where a more productive relationship between our organisations will benefit architecture in Australia. Practice is undoubtedly changing, and the small- to medium-sized practices face the biggest challenges. The key question is how these firms will be able to successfully compete for the appropriate projects. In WA we seem to be less keen on joint ventures than in other states and that is to our detriment. In fact, there has been a bit of a hiatus in the growth of medium practices, with those emerging tending to be small operations with two or three people.

The ACA is committed to gaining a better understanding of the shape of the profession, and to generating productive debate and discussion about its future. One of the problems is a dearth of data – it is hard to strategise for the future when you don’t know where you are. ACA – SA has recently conducted a research project to understand more about the profession there. We hope to expand this nationally, and have started with some excellent reports on data from the last three censuses. Following on from this research we have published a number of reflections by a wide range of practitioners on the future of the profession – under the banner “Where to From Here”. We’d love to have some WA voices contribute to that discussion.

There is great opportunity to collaborate. The Institute will lead the way in the marketing of architects and architecture, and ACA will continue to assist practice leaders to stay viable in a very uncertain profession. That will be very unifying.

Kieran Wong is ACA – WA President, and Director of CODA.